Wuhan’s 9 million residents could use as many as 20 million masks a day. Companies of all types are scrambling to switch production to meet demand in a country of 1.4 billion people.
SHENZHEN, China — As of February 14 there were more than 63,000 people confirmed to have been infected with the Covid-19 coronavirus. With around 1,300 deaths.
[The number of confirmed cases coming out of Hubei has recently seen a dramatic spike. This is believed to be due to the inclusion of clinically diagnosed cases in addition to laboratory-confirmed cases. For consistency, the World Health Organization (WHO) has decided to only report laboratory-confirmed cases in their data. — ed.]
Data on the outbreak is updated in real time every day. The situation remains very serious. It is not clear when China will see an inflection point that suggests the epidemic is being contained. Containment hinges on so many factors, including simple, basic expedients, such as making enough masks for people to wear.
With efforts to prevent and control the Covid-19 coronavirus (now officially named “2019-nCoV”), the demand for personal protective equipment has soared. Prices for surgical masks have shot up. Even among those who can afford them, masks have already become an extremely scarce commodity.
Responding to the shortage, some outfits abroad began purchasing masks from Japan, the United States, Myanmar and other countries, shipping them to China. Domestic mask companies abandoned plans to suspend production during the Spring Festival holiday. A bankrupt mask company in Suzhou that had stopped production for 570 days resumed production.
Despite these measures, the supply of protective equipment is stretched. The WHO has issued a warning that supplies are on the verge of exhaustion, with orders backlogged four to six months. In view of this, many Chinese technology companies who don’t make masks have started doing so.
According to Tianyan Inspection, which surveys changes in industrial and commercial registrations, between January 1 and February 7, 2020, some 3,000 Chinese companies — including 700 technology firms — have added “masks, protective clothing, disinfectants, thermometers and ‘medical equipment’ to their product lines.
Masks are scarce
According to statistics from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, China has capacity to produce more than 20 million masks a day. On February 5, the deputy director of the social development department stated that the daily output of masks across the country had reached 14.8 million. He reiterated that after the epidemic, surplus masks will be collected and stored by the government.
Demand in Wuhan
Wuhan, in Hubei province, illustrates the demand for masks.
On January 26, the Hubei government Press Office spoke to the media about prevention and control of coronavirus-based pneumonia outbreaks.
With a population of 9 million in Wuhan, daily mask consumption could well exceed 20 million masks.
[If people strictly follow rules set by the medical standard, they can use an ordinary medical mask only for 2 hours, while the use of N95 masks — a respiratory protective device — should last about 4 hours. — ed.]
According to data from the General Administration of Customs, from January 24 to 30, China imported more than 56 million masks.
In other words, over the course of six days, the country was able to import a two-day supply for a single city. China’s total population is 1.4 billion people. The numbers starkly illustrate the difficulty of meeting demand.
On February 8th in Geneva, the United Nations revealed that the new coronavirus had declined for two consecutive days but cautioned that prevention and control should still remain in place. There remains a possibility that the number of people infected could rise again. [After this article was written, Chinese authorities reported a spike of over 14,000 new cases of people infected across Hubei, along with 242 additional deaths. — ed.]
In addition, the world was facing the shortage of protective equipment, straining demand for masks and other protective equipment. Current consumption is 100 times more than normal level, and prices have increased more than 20 times normal.
Foxconn, BYD enter the mask production business
So who are the companies — close to 700 tech firms — who changed their industrial and commercial registrations to producing masks? Among tech industry players crossing the line to start making masks are Foxconn and BYD.
Foxconn said that these masks are needed in order to quickly respond to the local government’s prevention implementation guidelines.
The company estimates its daily production capacity will reach 2 million masks by the end of February. Most of its production will be reserved for use by Foxconn’s nearly 1 million employees.
Foxconn is planning mask exports in the future, however.
Meanwhile, BYD, China’s leading automotive company, began designing and manufacturing protective equipment, and assisted in the production of masks and disinfectants to meet the crisis.
BYD plans to start shipping masks and disinfectants on or about February 17, with capacity reaching five million pieces a day until the epidemic ends.
Sinopec: we have the materials, who has machines?
According to local media reports, Sinopec Corp. (China Petroleum & Chemical Corporation) is looking urgently for mask production machines that can use the company’s “melt-blown” cloth.
“Melt-blown cloth” creates a filter layer in the middle of the mask. Polypropylene, the raw material of melt-blown cloth and other non-woven fabrics, is mainly provided by PetroChina and Sinopec.
According to company officials, Sinopec will step up production of nearly 100,000 tons of raw materials this month. Sinopec is adjusting its production plan for raw materials necessary for masks, syringes and other polypropylene chemical products.
Changying Precision: The first batch of 10 million masks are in place
On February 9th, Changying Precision, whose regular business is focused on mobile phone production, stated that it’s adapting its automation capabilities to implement urgent tasks assigned by the government, namely the production of flat ear band masks. After a successful trial, the first batch of material for 10 million masks is done. Production capacity is expected to reach one million pieces a day by the end of February.
Changying Precision is preparing a separate site that can produce five million pieces a day.
SAIC-GM-Wuling: 1.7 million units per day
On February 6, Baojun Automotive issued a statement on WeChat saying that SAIC-GM-Wuling Automobile Co., Ltd. announced that the joint venture will convert its current production line to make masks.
Baojun is a Chinese automobile marque owned by a joint venture of General Motors and SAIC Motor, SAIC-GM-Wuling Automobile.
The dust-free workshop will be rebuilt by Guangxi Construction Engineering Group and will be in use this month. A total of 14 mask production lines will be set up, including 4 lines for high-grade N95 mask production and ten lines for general medical protective masks. Volume is expected to reach more than 1.7 million, alleviating the shortage of medical supplies in Guangxi.
GAC Group: Researching to build a mask production line
On February 8th, GAC Group announced that it is studying plans to build equipment for mask production lines.
GAC Group is a Chinese automobile maker headquartered in Guangzhou, Guangdong, and a subsidiary of Guangzhou Automobile Industry Group.
This work will be handed over to the GAC Group’s Parts Business Headquarters. This will not affect the main business of vehicle manufacture, the company said.
Lithium battery manufacturer Yinghe Technology develops mask production line
Yinghe Technology announced that it has developed and produced a fully automatic integrated machine to produce medical masks. The company signed a cooperation agreement with Zhende Medical to jointly develop a KN95 mask (M95) automated production line. Yinghe has agreed to supply the Shenzhen municipal government with 100 sets of equipment as quickly as possible.
Quality inspection machine changed to full automated mask machine
According to the Daily Science and Technology Report, Polytech of the Guangzhou High-tech Zone has turned 3C (computer, communication and consumer electronics) product quality inspection machines into flexible AI (artificial intelligence) mask machines. Reportedly, this is the first visual fully digital and automated mask production machine in China using computer vision for identification and quality control. Its standard output will be 120 pieces a minute and a daily production of more than 150,000 masks.
A major feature of this fully automated mask machine is its modular and flexible design. Its flexibility avoids waste of production capacity if there are changes in the market demand for masks. According to reports, when demand drops, it can be retrofitted back to the original visual inspection device.
“After the epidemic, this equipment can be used as a coating machine, and it can also be applied to the production lines of many consumer electronics products. For example, this can be reused for inspecting the quality of various coil shells, flexible display screens, flexible circuit boards and others,” said Lin Xiaobo, founder and chairman of the company.
OPPO and Vivo organize employees to produce masks
In addition, recently on the Internet, OPPO and Vivo, China’s two leading smartphone vendors, organized employees to produce masks.
OPPO said it has dispatched technicians and workers to support related enterprises in the production of masks.
ODM Opens Recruitment of Mask Factory
A Shenzhen OEM mobile phone OEM / ODM company also recently posted that it is recruiting mask factory directors.
Additionally, many other electronic technology companies, traditionally not in the mask business, have expressed the need to recruit “mask talent.”
(Source: Windy.app Coronavirus Live Map)
— Luffy Liu is Associate Chief Analyst of EETimes China. This story was put together by compiling various reports from Techweb, Global, Technology Daily, and Sina Financial Reports